Saturday was a historic day for the Wisconsin Badgers' offense. Not only did we see Melvin Gordon run his way back into the Heisman Trophy conversation after a career day, we also witnessed the rest of the offense break multiple school records on the way to a 68-17 blowout over Bowling Green.
At one point, the game was tighter than the final score showed. Near the end of the first quarter, the Badgers fumbled for the second time, giving the Falcons the ball trailing 14-10 with a chance to take the lead. But the start of the second quarter marked the game's turning point. The Badgers had three of the game's biggest plays in succession as they took the momentum from the Falcons and kept it on their side for the rest of the game. Here's a recap of those three plays that started the second quarter.
1. 3rd-and-11 at BGSU 27: James Knapke sacked by Derek Landisch for a loss of 10 yards to the BGSU; 17 Bowling Green Penalty, Intentional Grounding on Knapke
2. 4th-and-21 at BGSU 17: Joe Davidson punt for 57 yds, Kenzel Doe returns for 40 yds to the BGSU 34
3. 1st-and-10 at BGSU 34: Tanner McEvoy pass complete to Sam Arneson for 34 yds for a TD
The 34-yard touchdown connection from McEvoy to Arneson marked the beginning of a stretch for the Badgers that included 51 unanswered points scored in just under 33 minutes.
Needless to say, the win for the Badgers will continue to add confidence to the entire roster moving forward. In the Badgers' first two games of the season, the offense had a combined 774 total yards. On Saturday, the offense nearly matched that, totaling a school-record 756 total yards. So what did the Badgers' do so differently on Saturday? Let's take a closer look.
By the numbers:
78: Total number of plays ran by UW
9.6: Average yards per plays against BGSU
61: Total combined points for UW in first two games
60: Rushing attempts for UW on Saturday
More from the Game
More from the Game
435: Total combined rushing yards for UW in first two games
644: Rushing yards for UW on Saturday
10.7: Average yards per carry for UW on Saturday
36:36: Time of possession for UW
1: Pass attempt by McEvoy in the second half
6.2: Average yards per pass for UW on Saturday
359.7: Average rushing yards per game for UW in 2014 (Leads all FBS schools)
Melvin Gordon alone:
13: Carries on Saturday
19.5: Average yards per carry
253: Total rushing yards (career high)
178: Combined rushing yards in first two games of 2014
5: Rushes of over 20 yards
1: Rushing touchdown in 2014 prior to Saturday
5: Rushing touchdowns on Saturday
38.4%: Of carries went for touchdowns
What went right?
1. Melvin Gordon. In case you haven't realized it already from this post, Gordon was the star on Saturday. The junior running back managed to make up for two previous outings that left Badger fans scratching their heads and wanting more from the preseason All-American. But after a strong showing against the Falcons on Saturday, Gordon once again finds his name being mentioned in the Heisman discussion.
After the game starting slow (losing his first career fumble on his first carry of the game), Gordon hit a groove late in the first quarter and continued that hot streak into the second half. He was benched early in the third quarter shortly after he scored his fifth rushing touchdown of the game. Despite only playing a little more than half of the game, Gordon was still able to put up career numbers, rushing for 253 yards and tying the school record with five rushing touchdowns.
2. The rest of the rushing attack. Gordon can't receive all the credit for Saturday's dominant rushing display by the Badgers. After underwhelming everyone by totaling just 167 rushing yards against Western Illinois, the Badgers' rushing attack proceeded to run right through the Falcons on Saturday, breaking the school record for total rushing yards in a game with 644 yards. They had three rushers total over 100 yards, with another falling just 6 short of the century mark.
Gordon lead the team with 253 yards, while McEvoy added 158 on 11 carries and one rushing touchdown. Corey Clement received the most carries on the team (16) and ran for 111 yards and two touchdowns. After Clement was pulled from the game late in the third quarter, sophomore Dare Ogunbowale came into the game and ran for 94 yards on 14 carries.
Two weeks ago, prior to the Western Illinois game, Ogunbowale was moved from his position as a reserve cornerback to running back in order to make up for two freshmen tailback injuries. Gary Andersen was impressed with the sophomore's performance on Saturday. He also acknowledged the potential for Ogunbowale's role to expand in the future, as Luke Mueller reported from Madison.
"He's not going to take out Melvin or Corey at this point for sure, but the ability for him to get into a game, have ball security, handle the offense with a very, very young offensive line in there and have the production that he had, it cannot go unnoticed," Andersen said. "I think after one game in this situation you would think he's found a little bit of a home. We'll see how he continues to grow."
3. Kenzel Doe returning punts. I know this is a review about the offense, not the special teams. But I feel obligated to acknowledge the significant improvement shown by Doe on Saturday. Prior to Saturday's game, Doe had returned three punts in two games for a total of minus-1 yard. Against the Falcons, Doe returned seven punts for 98 yards, almost scoring twice if not for being tripped up by the Falcons' punter.
On his first return of the game, Doe returned a punt 38 yards to set up the Badgers on the Bowling Green 25-yard line. Two plays later, McEvoy found the end zone off of a read-option. To start the second quarter, Doe returned a punt 40 yards to the Bowling Green 34-yard line. On the next play, McEvoy connected with Sam Arneson for a touchdown.
What went wrong?
1. Turnovers. The Falcons were able to stay in the game early on due to the Badgers committing crucial turnovers. Gordon fumbled his first carry of the game and the Falcons recovered the ball on the Wisconsin 35-yard line. On the next play, Fred Coppet ran 35 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7.
Later on in the first quarter, center Dan Voltz botched a snap to McEvoy that was immediately recovered by Bowling Green. Prior to the fumble, the Badgers' were on the Bowling Green 28-yard line, on the verge of taking a 21-10 lead if not for the turnover. McEvoy also had a pass intercepted in the end zone with just over two minutes to go in the first half.
The two fumbles each show situations in which the Badgers can be severely hurt by turning the ball over. In one case, the opponent got the ball with good field position and immediately capitalized on the opportunity. In the other scenario, the Badgers were on the verge of extending their lead, but a careless mistake cost them possession and allowed the opponent having the chance to take the lead. While these turnovers ultimately proved to be meaningless in this game, the Badgers will need to do a better job taking care of the ball, especially with conference play starting in two weeks.
Final thoughts: Breaking down Gordon's success on the ground
Part of what makes Gordon such a special back is his ability to run with speed, elusiveness and power. We often see these characteristics when he breaks off a long touchdown run, which he did several times on Saturday.
On his second touchdown of the day, Gordon ran up the middle 50 yards for a touchdown. Gordon uses his exceptional vision to find the hole his offensive line opened up for him. Once he hits the open field, he's able to use his explosiveness to break free from several defensive backs, throwing in a vicious stiff arm right before he makes it to the end zone. You can see the entire run for yourself in the video above (0:16).
On his fourth touchdown of the day, Gordon took the carry with under a minute to go in the first half. After shaking off several tacklers at the line of scrimmage, he is able spin past another defender in the open field and then finally adds a highlight-worthy juke on his way to the end zone. (1:33)
ESPN announcer Joey Galloway commented during the game on how Gordon was able to use his balance to make defenders miss and break tackles in order to break free into the open field.
"Terrific balance by Gordon. You can see his hips are always square, his feet are under his hips, which gives him the ability when people get at his legs to land on his feet square and then burst once he hits his feet back on the ground."
On his fifth and final touchdown of the day, Gordon finds another big hole up the middle and is able to run 69 yards untouched to the end zone. You can see in the video above (2:57) that once Gordon is able to make it past the line of scrimmage, he's capable of outrunning three Falcons' defensive backs along the sideline, showcasing his explosive speed.